Regional traditional folk symbolism of Lublin, Poland

Phoenix of Elder Mountain Dreaming – Some of my ancestors are from Lublin, Poland and when I ran across this article (source at the bottom) of Traditional art of the rural community, I thought I would share. Its motifs, patterns and ornaments in folk tradition, folk dress, folk objects and talisman of Lublin shows many of the symbols that a lot of Slavic countries applied long ago and still today. ~Phoenix

Traditional folk art of Lublin had a different function than the art of the educated social classes. It predominantly served as a uniting and integrating factor. It forged identity, emphasized distinctive features, informed, offered a link to the past and memory. Crafted items were not only aesthetic, but functional.

Folk art is inextricably linked with the traditional character of culture – it emerged from the combination of “the head and the hand,” of imagination and creation. Skills and patterns were passed down from one generation to the next. However, items created in different households were not identical. The hand-made items were often singular and unique. Technical solutions and details of fittings, shapes, decorations and colors were also different and depended on the used materials. Some objects crafted by folk inventors had truly surprising forms. However, they had their individual appeal – the creativity and artistry of the rural community, also in the Lubelszczyzna region, constituted a proof of their artistic talent and love for ornaments.

The most popular among the many geometric, floral and animal motifs used in traditional design from the Lublin region were: the cross, triskelion, swastika, rooster, sun, rosette (and a rose-like flower), star, heart and tree. Their popularity might have been linked with the symbolism of luck and fortune. However, it was often an unconscious decision on the part of the craftsmen. The motifs were used and repeated within the closest family or borrowed from the neighbors.


Color also possessed its own significance, especially the Slavic colors of Red, White and Black:

1. Red is a special hue – it is a color of life, of fire and the sun, of purification of life and the forces that boosted the fertility of the land, animals and of people. Red items have an apoptotic function to warded off evil, demons and deflect misfortune (e.g. red ribbons, red beads used on clothes).

2. White of for the brightness of life and purity.

3. Black indicates the sphere of the soul and spirit world.

3 Green is the color of flowers and trees, especially of the coniferous species, denoted rebirth and immortality, wealth and fertility. It could also bring plentiful harvest.

4. Brown is linked with Earth and nature.

5. Blue is associated with the life giving waters, the eternity of the soul, the feminine and  associated with the sky.

6. Yellow is associated with the energy of the golden sun and with wealth (fairy tales of kingdoms with golden mountains, golden castles, of trees with golden fruit).

Pisanka (krzyż), 1994 r., pow. LublinEQUAL CROSS
A cross consists of two lines that cross at an acute angle. It is the oldest symbolic depiction of the world (imago mundi). Items marked with the symbol were found in almost every corner of the world. It usually denoted a nature cult (fire, the sun). It also represented the axis of the earth, the four directions, the juxtaposition of the opposites: life-immortality, spirit-matter, zenith-nadir, east-west, up-down, right-left. It is used as a talisman in sympathetic magic to assure good harvest or to repel demons and other supernatural forces.

Pisanka (krzyż), 1994 r., pow. LublinIn the Middle Ages, the cross was sometimes portrayed as a reversed Tree of Life. It epitomized the joining of heaven and earth, thus, it was pictured as the letter Y and a tree in allegories. It had the power to resurrect the dead and to cure all diseases.

Grave crosses contained an element of a magic seal according to some beliefs. They were sacred symbols, but also constituted a barrier that kept the dead from returning. Crosses and shrines were often erected on crossroads and on the borders of villages, in mediator places that were visited by demons.  The cross used to decorate Easter eggs in the Lublin region is similar to a Maltese cross or is combined with a swastika, often in floral patterns.

Pisanka (swastyka), 1961 r., pow. BiłgorajTRISKELION
A triskelion or triskele resembles the reversed letter Y. It is a symbol made of three identical elements: arms, spirals, meanders, etc. that form a cyclical geometrical pattern. It represented the eternal cycle of life, the triadic aspect of femininity (the maiden, the mother and the crone), the three phases of life (youth, adulthood, old age) and the three forms of the material world (the earth, the sea and the sky). It was used as early as in ancient art.

Many astrologists used it as the symbol of the Sun. It was one of the main symbols of the ancient Slavic Pagan and pre-pagan Goddess religions. It was used to decorate stone circles, megaliths and other sacred places of worship, as well as sacrificial pots. The triskelion is retained in Polish folk decorations as a reminiscence of ancient magical sigils and spells. In the Lublin region, the motif is used to decorate Eater eggs, but also in embroidery from the Biłgoraj area and on pottery created in Łążek. Some believed the triskelion to be a primitive image of a rooster.

Lublin Rooster Metal Works

The rooster, which symbolizes a new day and the coming of light, has been associated with vigilance and victory over darkness since ancient times. Thanks to its bright-red comb, shiny feathers and morning crowing, it is linked to fire and sun and the coming spring and also symbolized vital forces, fertility and plentiful harvest.

According to folklore, a rooster was the first bird to sing in the morning and could crow for the entire Christmas night. It was also believed that a rooster’s crow disperses darkness and banishes evil spirits and the bird is supposed to warn against evil and danger. It was regarded as an apotropeion and its image was often placed on amulets.

A roosters’ feathers and claws grant magical protection. As a motif in folk art of the Lubelszczyzna region, the rooster is placed on wayside crosses and roofs – as finials or whether cocks. It was portrayed on iron and paper cut ornaments, on pottery (Łążek, Baranów) and on clothes.

Pisanka (swastyka), 1978 r., pow. LublinSWASTIKA
The swastika resembles crossed lightnings and combined the symbolic of the cross and the wheel (four axes rotating in one direction). The motif was used in almost every primeval and ancient culture. The word swastika brings luck. It has a right-facing and left-facing version. The right-facing, clockwise swastika mirrors the movement of the sun (as seem on the northern hemisphere) and was often associated with solar cultures (as a symbol of the sun and fire – a flaming circle) and functioned as a symbol of luck. The left-facing swastika (sauwastika) was a symbol of the moon, the night and magic. It was associated with goddesses and fertility.

Pisanka (swastyka), 1958 r., pow. BiłgorajThe swastika as a sun symbol was used on every continent in the world. It always signified Gods’ favour, the drive to success, victory in battle and good harvest. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, it was engraved on amulets to protect against black magic, demons, the devil and evil witches (and there are good witches too). Swastika was also used in the Polish territories. Among the Slavic people, it was the symbol of Swarog, the god of the sun, and was called swarga, swarzyca or swarożyca. It was traditionally carved on household items.

Pisanka (swastyka), 1997 r., pow. LublinThe swastika was used to decorate Easter eggs in the Lublin region as a symbol of the cross, and was often drawn near or on it. It was a sign of the lightning – a spring phenomenon that brings the first warm rainfall and makes the plants bloom. Placed on an Easter egg, a swastika was a fervent request for blessing and good fortune for the farm, the animals and the people.

Pisanka (słońce), 1958 r., pow. BiłgorajSUN
The sun, as the ancient force of the daytime, and later creation, was the center of many ancient pagan religions, as the moon and spirals were in the ancient pre-pagan goddess religions. By emanating its light, the sun is a source of brightness that overcame the forces of chaos and death. With its round shape, its linked with the symbolic of fire which had the power to fertilize and give life after destruction and death. In winter the warmth that is necessary for vegetation.

Shrines and temples were built to face east and prayers were also addressed in that direction. The sun was often the symbol of infinity, beginning, the source of energy and vital forces, fertility and good harvest, wisdom, truth, enlightenment and Christ (the day of winter solstice, 25h of December, was chosen in the 3rd century by the church authorities as the day of Christ’s birth; in ancient Rome it was celebrated as the day of the sun).

The ancient cult of the sun is often visible in ornaments on Easter eggs from the Lublin region. The first type of this motif was called an apple, the next one had a form of a circle adorned with spirals. Similar patterns were used on pottery created in Łążek, Pawłów, Baranów and Glinne.

Pisanka (słońce), 1958 r., pow. BiłgorajROSETTE (SIX-POINTED STAR)
The rosette is a solar symbol in many cultures and many peoples believed it to be magical. It was commonly used as a decoration motif in the form of a six-pointed star (a hexapental star). Since the Middle Ages it has been used to adorn doors, ceiling joists, crosses, cornices; it was used on coats of arms, everyday objects, furniture, musical instruments (e.g. the Biłgoraj suka) and on ritual items. Another name for the rosette is the flower of life. The architectural ornament in the form of a rosette is also called różyca (a rose) because it resembles the flower.

A rose is a symbol of fidelity and power of the feminine, the midnight star, life, the attribute of the goddesses, of morning and spring and summer. A rose-like flower painted on a dark blue background above the main ornament was a formal trademark of glass painted pictures created in the Lublin area during the 19th century.

Pisanka (słońce), 1957 r., pow. BiłgorajSTAR
Stars symbolized fate and destiny. It was believed that stars belonged to the spirit realm and were simultaneously bright openings in the sky. The fact that they were too numerous to count and that they shined with uneven brightness led people to believe that they constantly multiplied. According to folk beliefs it proved the fact that every person had their own star which appeared on the day they were born and fell when whey died. The star’s color defined the person linked to it. Its dark light warned of close death, bright light meant good fortune, while red stars belonged to martyrs and saints.

Pisanka (krzyż), 2011 r., pow. ChełmThe act of observing the moon and later the stars, was helpful in measuring the rhythm of day and night of the seasons of the year. The traditional Polish Christmas Eve supper started when the first star appeared in the evening sky. The sky also offered many insights and prophecies, for example, according to popular belief, many stars visible during the Christmas night meant a good year ahead. In the Lublin region, star patterns were used to decorate Pysanky eggs and pottery. The motif was also used in paper cut ornaments, in folk embroidery, in blacksmithing and woodworking.

Pisanka (krzyż), 1994 r., pow. LublinHEART
In many cultures and religions the heart is a symbol of love, charity, joy and sadness, conscience and moral courage, a source of spiritual enlightenment, truth and intelligence. According to the Bible it was a center for all that is spiritual. It is a symbol of happiness and light, a source of life and vital forces, the residence of the soul. It pumps the life-giving blood and keeps humans alive. Placed in the center of the body it has become the symbolic center of a human being and a place of sacrum, of mediating with the divine. According to some ancient beliefs, the gods begun the act of creation from their hearts and it was the source of the most important gifts offered to humanity. The blessing of salvation comes from Jesus’ heart.

Due to this cult, starting from the 16th century prayer books for common people were decorated with a heart, surrounded with a crown of thorns. A heart pierced with arrows, with a crown of thorns, a cross or held in a hand has become an attribute of saints. Without touching the heart and without the love that flows from within it, no work of art could ever be created. In folk art it is usually used as a motif in ritual and decorative works, as a pattern on pottery and as an element of bodices form the Podlasie region, on iron wrought fittings or in wood carving.

The tree is a part of every religion, culture and folklore. The holy tree, the tree of Eden, the evergreen tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of life which has the power to grant immortality. It was believed to be the axis of the world (axis mundi), as it merged the underground, chthonic forces (the roots), the heavenly cosmic spheres (its branches) and life on earth (the trunk). The tree, by harnessing all four elements of nature (roots in earth and water, branches in sun and air) became the symbol of longevity, fertility and vital forces.

Pisanka (słońce), 1961 r., pow. LublinArt portrayed heaven as a garden full of trees and flowers and all branches of arts and crafts uses the motif of the tree – as a whole or via its elements: flowers, leaves, twigs, cones. The cosmic tree (arbor mundi) and the cosmic river was presented as surrounded by stars, with the sun among its branches or in an inverted position – with its roots in the sky and branches on the ground. It was interpreted as the tree of life, the symbol of renewing plants and unending fertility, the cycle of renewal of the vital forces.

The cross is a version of the tree.. It was sometimes believed that the it is the tree of life that grants life eternal. In some portrayals of the cross – from the Middle Ages to Baroque – the inanimate wood of the tree of torment sprouted with buds and twigs which made the cross visually refer to a tree.

In Polish traditional culture, and not only in the Lubelszczyzna region, plant decorations used during such celebrations as Christmas but also during weddings. It was used as a decorative motif in paintings, on furniture (such as dowry chests), in cut paper art, in sculpture, woodcarving, embroidery, pottery and on traditional Easter egg decorations. The ornament had several variations: a tree, a shrub, a bouquet in a vase or a basket, a twig, a leaf, a flower. It was stylized as fir, spruce, fern and as many different species of plants, flowers and shrubs, most often fictional than reproduced from nature.

Blacksmithing in the Lublin region

The flourishing of rural blacksmithing took place in the second half of the 19th century, when the material conditions of the peasants improved after enfranchisement, beginning a new phase of rural development. A common phenomenon has been the desire to externally emphasize its wealth through a rich outfit, decorating the interior of the room or decorating objects of everyday use.

The folk blacksmithing for a long period was almost the only supplier of iron products, mainly tools necessary for a farm. With the spread of cheap factory iron in the second half of the 19th century, the number of blacksmiths grew. Sometimes there were several of them in one village. They were recruited from different backgrounds, they also had various professional qualifications (former blacksmiths of the court, blacksmiths after learning in the town, blacksmiths from blacksmith’s families, self-taught). 

Despite the high demand for their services, blacksmiths had to solicit customers, which was one of the main reasons for the rich decorating of products. In addition to the tools needed in agriculture, blacksmiths made gratings, castles and hinges needed in construction and furniture making, fittings for carts and sleighs. A separate department for blacksmith products, especially decorative ones,

The decorative character of the products was obtained by giving them a decorative form and the use of such decorative techniques as: boning (cold or hot punches or hammers of the appropriate form) and stamping (decorating items with iron hammers of variously shaped ends: circular, flat or ornamented in the form of stars, rosettes, etc.). Also decorated using punches or chisels and then created a very modest ornament – in the form of: dots, zigzags, herringbones, grates.

In the 20th century, along with the development of factory production, village metalwork begins to decline, but still retains importance as a place of repair or adaptation of factory tools. The interest in ornamentation disappears; the view has become widespread that ornamentation weakens iron. After the Second World War, there were not many blacksmiths who were able to make decorated products in the Lublin villages. 

They were not sold to the rural population, so they indispensably limited their production to agricultural tools, minor repairs and forging horses. It was possible to reactivate artistic blacksmithing provided that its products could be used in the present conditions. As a result, modern blacksmiths used traditional techniques and patterns to perform objects that were not present in the old rural culture. These include

A dozen or so blacksmiths operated in the Lublin region. The most talented, who not only masterfully mastered all the techniques, but also skillfully used traditional patterns for new products, included: Edward Bychawski from Borów in the area. krasnostawskim, Bronisław Pietrak from Gutanów and Aleksander Adamczyk from Pożógu in pow. Puławy and Piotr Pędzisz from Łysołaj and Roman Czerniec from Wojciechów in Lublin. Hope for the survival of blacksmithing, besides taking care of him and inclusion in folk art contests, also gives growing interest in traditional products in the growing urban environment, such as: bars, hinges, fences, weathercocks, etc., which are original elements of newly erected residences.

Source: and their bibliography: Cirlot J. E., Słownik symboli [A Dictionary of Symbols], Kraków 2006. Forstner D., Świat symboliki chrześcijańskiej [The World of Christian Symbolism], Warszawa 1990. Kopaliński W., Słownik symboli [A Dictionary of Symbols], Warszawa 1990. Kowalski P., Leksykon znaki świata. Omen, przesąd, znaczenie [Lexicon of the symbols of the world. Omen, superstition, symbolism], Warszawa 1998. Lurker M., Słownik symboli i obrazów biblijnych [Dictionary of Biblical Images and Symbols], Poznań 1989.

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